The year 2011 began in Sudan with much talk about peace, along with an event that changed the features of the country and its history. Now the year has ended with the reality of more than one war in the region, the developments of which will have implications possibly resulting in further changes to the form of the Sudanese state, and its political map. The beginning of the year witnessed the division of the country after South Sudan voted to secede, in a referendum stipulated by the terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), signed by the al-Bashir regime and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). [Under the terms of the CPA] the Khartoum regime was supposed to create an atmosphere to make unity an attractive option, but instead it has led the way towards separation, and has fueled new wars. As we enter 2012, there are currently three wars raging in the north, stretching along the newly-formed southern front across the breadth of the country, from Darfur to South Kordofan and the Blue Nile. There is already a strained relationship between Sudan and the newly formed state of South Sudan, with relations already ranging from a cold war to open confrontation.
These fronts are likely to intensify greatly in the new year, and there is much evidence to support this. Relations between Sudan and South Sudan are increasingly tense, especially with the war over oil revenues and the economic impact of this. This has prompted South Sudan to explore alternative means of exporting its oil, perhaps through Uganda, despite the high cost of such a project. The two sides are also engaged in a proxy conflict, with threats and accusations of each side supporting the other’s opponents and encouraging rebels.
There is also the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), which was formed from among the northern branch of the SPLM, and three armed movements in Darfur, with the declared aim of overthrowing President al-Bashir by “all means possible”. This Front incorporates a large number of forces, especially if we take into account the estimates which indicate that the number of former northern militants in the SPLM lies between 24 and 30 thousand troops, most of them from the Nuba Mountains and the Southern Blue Nile. In addition, the Front now incorporates three of the biggest armed movements in Darfur. It is no secret that the SRF has Juba’s support, and with the escalation of tensions on both sides of the border and the intensification of the SRF’s activities, confrontations could soon turn into a war between the North and the South. This particular development would have dire consequences.
The National Salvation government had previously tried to reach agreements with the major armed movements in Darfur, in order to end the war there and then portray this achievement as a “return to piece” and as compensation for the secession of the South. It sought this goal through the Doha peace forum, and Qatari mediation, and when it failed the government then decided to use all power at its disposal to try and deliver a knockout blow to the armed movements that rejected the Doha forum, in particular the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), led by Dr. Khalil Ibrahim, which it considers to be the greatest danger. The government also sought to prevent the consolidation of a SRF alliance, capable of effective coordination on the ground.
Indeed, the al-Bashir regime, which has “got rid of the burden of the South” in the words of some of its affiliates, is now devoting itself to the “second republic” project, seeking to change the face of the country politically, after changes to its geographical map. The al-Bashir regime wanted to enter the year 2012 being able to close the file on the war in Darfur, for two reasons. Firstly, the first half of next year will see a referendum on the administrative status of Darfur, and whether the territory will become one region or remain as three separate districts, as is the current situation. JEM has already announced its opposition to this referendum. The other reason is that the coming months are scheduled to witness the drafting of the new constitution, which is bound to touch upon the form of the government, the state, and the relationship between the center and the regions, in addition to addressing the issue of identity.
The National Salvation government considers the draft constitution to be a fundamental pillar of what it calls the “second republic”, and thus it sought to try to attract various political forces to participate in a “broad-based government”. This was in order to grant legitimacy to the planned constitution, to ensure that its opponents would also bear responsibility for it, and to thwart any moves to transfer the Arab Spring’s achievements to Sudan. This is especially considering the intensification of economic hardships and growing signs of discontent towards both the situation and the regime.
In this context, we should consider the killing of Dr. Khalil Ibrahim, in what Khartoum claimed to be an armed battle, while JEM reported it as an “assassination” strike by a guided missile fired from a plane flying over Ibrahim’s camp. The National Salvation government considered the man to be its most dangerous opponent in Darfur, especially after his attempt to implement a coup with an armed invasion of the capital, orchestrated from Omdurman in 2008. Despite the arrest of a number of militants after the operation, who were accused of treason and sentenced to death, the government entered into a dialogue with Khalil Ibrahim, with Chadian-Qatari mediation, which led to the signing of a framework agreement. The government also issued an amnesty for the JEM affiliates who had been sentenced to death.
However, the agreement soon faltered, and did not produce the government’s desired results, namely for JEM to join the Doha peace forum. Having abandoned this plan, it then seemed that the government had decided to liquidate Ibrahim. JEM announced that Ibrahim had been exposed to a failed assassination attempt in Tripoli, during the recent events in Libya, where he was staying as Gaddafi’s guest. Ibrahim then fled from Libya after the collapse of the regime, and the newly established rebel control. Since his return from exile back across Sudanese borders, the al-Bashir regime undertook a process of monitoring his movements. His camp was targeted and Ibrahim was killed before he could cross into South Sudan and rendezvous with the SRF.
This operation has since raised tensions in Darfur, and has also led to an increase in preparations on Khartoum’s behalf, in anticipation of any form of retaliation from JEM. Thus the year has ended and Sudan is far from peace and stability, and ever closer to heightened confrontation and polarization. Pressures will increase with the beginning of 2012, which will be a difficult year in any case.
(The writer is a columist and political commentator. This article first appeared in Asharq Al Awsat on Jan. 2rd, 2012)